Armor a mile thick today

This story starts out boring but bear with me, it gets funny and there is a punchline. So, there’s construction in my neighborhood on Misson as they dig up the street and repair some sections of sidewalk. Over by the Big Lots there were a bunch of barriers and hastily constructed ramps to the street and back around some of the work. I went out around the giant orange barrier things and found an SUV blocking the ramp up. I could go back out into Mission or go even further out into Mission. Both not good choices.

Sidewalk construction barriers

I ducked half under the SUV’s bumper and got onto the ramp while holding onto the corner of of the car so I wouldn’t tip over. As I got onto the sidewalk clumsily an older lady with a little kid came up and I asked if it were her car. (Yes). I said, Well hey. You are blocking the ramp! There’s construction so it was hard to get up. She started yelling at me. I can’t remember what! But it was mean. “You should go on the other side of the street then!” At one point she said that I should read the sign — if I could even read! Because the date wasn’t for today and she was parked at a meter! Arrrrrgh. Thanks for the implication I can’t read!

I finally yelled back, “All you had to do is say, sorry for blocking the ramp, BUT NO, you had to be a huge screaming bitch!” And zoomed off filled with fury and sadness.

SUV blocking the ramp

Hahahah! So much for my composure and wisdom from yesterday! Some days no bullshit happens and some days it does. Some times I can handle shit and sometimes I fly off the handle. I got over it and laughed at the whole thing before I had gone another block.

So, I got to the notary office and hauled myself painfully over the non accessible threshold. The notary guy was helping someone else and kept giving me sort of dirty looks like I should not be there. The dude he was helping had to go get some extra documents from his car a few blocks away. As he left, the notary told me to wait till he finished with the first guy. I said something neutral like, it’s good to finish with one thing before you move onwards. All fine so far but I could feel that he didn’t want me there.

Half an hour later he filled out my form and got my thumbprint and everything. Another dude came up and …. unbelievable… he told me to wait until he helped Dude 2. I thought about calling him out on it. Calmly asking him, did you notice that you asked me to wait for you to finish with that first guy? But then, did not ask the next person after me to wait for you to finish with me? Why was that? I looked at him and thought about how his tension would then turn to outright anger. It wouldn’t matter how I asked him to discuss it, he would be hostile and would escalate, 99.9% certain.

Decided it wasn’t even worth it. People sometimes assholes, life not always fair, minor inconveniences happen, we all have annoying things. I just hope he did the form right, unlike notary #1 a week ago.

I headed home. (Negotiating the crumbling, soft, rutted ramp with no problem now that there wasn’t a car blocking it.) At the corner of my street, a tall white guy with very close shaved grey hair started yelling at me. “You almost hit me on that thing, it’s dangerous! You’re not even sick! If you are sick, you’re a waste of space! The problem with you people….” (That again!!!!!) “The problem with you people is you just don’t think.” I said that I was sorry I nearly hit him. And was glad I didn’t run into him. (Sincerely.) (Though he was rude and mean.)

He continued yelling. I then said (we were going the same direction, him next to me) Ah, you maybe didn’t hear me, I just apologized for not seeing you and nearly hitting you. I’m glad I didn’t run into you.

(More screaming)

“OK. Well. I hope your day gets better….”

“I hope your LIFE gets better!”

“My life is pretty great actually.”

He responded, “Well the problem with YOU is, you get all the pussy, and I don’t get any of it!”

I am sure I cracked up laughing at that point but I only remember staring at him incredulously.

“You know, you are right! That is completely true, man!” I couldn’t tell at this point if he was joking! What the fuck? But I’m laughing, maybe he’s joking?

“You steal everything. You stole all the pussy and that’s UNFORGIVEABLE. The rainbow is for everyone. YOU STOLE THE RAINBOW!”

“Oh, wow. You are 100% right. The rainbow IS for everybody! I mean, rainbows! They’re great.” Now I’m just resigned that he’s not at all joking, and I’ve incorrectly started fucking with him and he’s going to punch me in front of my own house. And yet my mouth runs off. And his saying that I stole the pussy and the rainbow also weirdly made me crack up while it was also super sad.

“Yes it is. The rainbow means something. It’s from God. It’s got a purpose to exist. And you don’t. You shouldn’t exist.”

It is funny that you can’t tell if people are going to hate you more if they think you’re not “really” disabled, or if you are! Sometimes, a stranger’s gaydar, lavender hair, and maybe wearing your kid’s My Little Pony Rainbow Dash t-shirt trumps disability completely! Jeez, first they came for our curb cuts but they couldn’t stop there, they had to steal the pussy from the men and the rainbows from God!!!!

Somewhat spooked and really, I thought I could defuse his anger with a little conversation, right up until the point of no return. Now he knows where I live!

Deep breaths, carry on, blogging it because I feel the impulse to share — though now it’s like I’m horrible for making fun of this poor messed up dude. I’m so tired! How can all those things happen in just going 3 blocks from my house and back?

Rainbow power!!!!!!!!!

Rainbow butterfly unicorn kitten

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Accessibility at the beach in Tulum and Akumal

I just got back from a fabulous vacation in Quintana Roo. We stayed in Tulum, in a small, funky, beachfront hotel zone, and then in Akumal. There is a lot to say about the trip but first of all, here are my notes on access, since that’s what I was looking for when I was planning the trip. This will be a Very Long Post!

My hopes were for warm water, beach access to calm water for easy snorkeling, small hotel right on the beach, and some scope for scooting around that wasn’t just in a single hotel. Both hotels I contacted in Tulum and Akumal were happy to explain the accessibility. Neither hotel was completely wheelchair accessible; what I wanted was just reasonable possibility that I could walk a few steps and be on the beach, and also that I should be able to leave the hotel on my own with a wheelchair or scooter. Akumal was my main goal, because I read online on some forums that a wheelchair user lives and works there and that the town has some curb cuts and ramps to accommodate them. That sounded promising!

For the flight to Cancun and back to San Francisco, United flight attendants let me put my TravelScoot (disassembled, not in a bag) in overhead bins. My partner and son took care of that. Without help, I would most likely have had to check the scooter at the gate. It was so nice to know that my scooter was going to be OK, not break or freeze in the cargo hold or be lost and was under my control. What a huge relief!!

(I do not know how anyone uses the TravelScoot duffel bag. I tried it… once… in my garage. It was like trying to stuff a floppy-jointed tyrannosaurus skeleton into a sausage casing. Not gonna happen, ever!)

Cancun airport was nicely accessible. It was extremely easy to get cabs. I had booked a shuttle ride beforehand with DiscoveryMundo. They were just outside the terminal building exit with a sign for me in a crowd of other drivers. It was a giant van we could have fit 10 people into, and probably twice as expensive as it had to be. I will just get a regular taxi when I go back. I appreciated having things arranged, though, and our driver Julian was extremely nice.

Our small Tulum hotel, Piedra Escondida, had about 10 feet of deep sand in the walkway up to the main entrance and lobby. Danny had to carry it and I walked with my cane. Once I was in the lobby, access to the indoor restaurant was flat but there was a step to get outside or to the registration area. We had to get across another 100 feet or so of sand to get to our little beach cottage, which had a tile paved porch and another small step to get into the room. I was able to bring my scooter inside and charge it with no problem. Our cottage (#6) was nicely positioned for me to get across short, maybe 10 foot stretch of deep sand to a grassy area I could more or less scoot over to the street out a back gate. It was rough but I could do it on my own (just barely).

porch with hammock and beach

This hotel would be reasonable for someone who, like me, can walk a little bit. And only for the most daring of manual chair or TravelScoot users or someone who does not mind getting help across the pockets of deep sand. The porch was nice enough, with a hammock, two adirondack chairs and a view of the beach and ocean and coconut trees, that I would not have minded staying on the porch quite a lot, which is what I did! The lobby was nice to hang out in, shady and relaxing. There was wireless, at least from the restaurant and lobby, and we could also get wireless pretty well from the porch but not the room. The bathroom was not wheelchair accessible and there was a shower with no bath. A nice shower though! The running water is all salt water. You get bottled water from the hotel or the mini mart to drink and brush your teeth with.

The restaurant for the hotel was good, a bit expensive, but very nice food, lovely people, right on the beach and outside, with wind screens up.

There was a constant warm breeze, more intense at night, which seems normal for this part of the coast for April. I am always cold where I live in San Francisco, despite wooly socks and long underwear. It was nice to hang out all day long in nothing but a bathing suit and sun dress or skirt.

liz in sundress at beach

My forays into the street were fun but of fairly limited scope. There was a short stretch of hotels, restaurants, small shops with textiles and beach towels and souvenirs, and a very nice minimart. I bought a rainbow flowered iipil (the kind of pretty white embroidered thing that in Texas, if dress length, was colloquially called “a Mexican dress”) and some flip flops in the kiosk next to the minimart. There were ATMs and a couple of kiosks where you could book tours or get advice, maps, and so on. They were both helpful. There was a very short and not very well ramped stretch of sidewalk in front of two restaurants but other than that I was scooting in the street along with a lot of bicycles and some cars and trucks. It was easy to get a taxi any time of day or night. South of our tiny strip of businesses and beach and tall trees, there was a rocky sea wall or pile of riprap along the little road, no trees, hot and dusty. I did not go past this sunny stretch of road to the main beach of Tulum’s hotel zone where I think there are a LOT more small boutiquey hotels including some gay nude ones and a lot of people who do yoga and more restaurants. None of the hotels in the “north” bit of the hotel zone, where I was, had good access to the street for a wheelchair user, but again, they all seemed vaguely doable for someone who can either walk a tiny bit or who can power through some gravel in a manual chair.

I walked onto the beach I think three times. It was a little bit steep for this to be easy for me. In short it was difficult. The water was rough. I am a skilled swimmer still (if not strong any more) and very good in ocean waves from a lifetime of enjoying bodysurfing and boogie boarding. But the deal breaker for me was uneven footing and shifting sand underfoot and also, rocks. I had short dips into the water but could not swim around as I would have liked. It was still relaxing and awesome to be there. There were iguanas! I also spent a lot of time watching the magnificent frigatebirds and brown pelicans glide overhead. Danny practices his ukelele a lot, and we all read constantly on our Kindles.

Tulum Pueblo itself looked interesting. It was maybe a half hour (or a bit more) walk away from our hotel, with a very nice sidewalk and bus stops along the way. I did not get to explore the town. Many people in the Hotel Zone (or, as I thought of it, the Gringo Zoo) rented bikes to get to the town and its reportedly great restaurants. It was just too hot for me to want to go that far and a bit too much bother to get a taxi to town with the scooter. And so easy to eat at our hotel and the Mateo’s Gringolandia Grill or whatever it was, across the street (which was very nice, relaxing, had good food and live music; possible to get into without a step if you went through the gravel parking lot; with one step if you went from the tiny stretch of sidewalk).

We had two day trips out in taxis. One day we went to the Tulum archeological site, aka the ruins of Tulum. I read up on Tulum’s history, online and in several books, and was excited to go there because it was one of the places I had read about and seen in engravings a long time ago from my dad’s books by John L. Stephens with the engravings by Catherwood. (Alternate universe Liz, I think, would have hopped on the translating Mayan glyphs train at University of Texas in the 80s, when they were starting to make major progress. I had that dream!)

engraving of tulum ruins from 1844

I read Friar Diego de Landa’s “Yucatan: Before and After the Conquest” in the Dover edition with an interestingly socialist introduction from the 1930s. I have read the Michael Coe Maya book several times in the past but did not re-read. (I will do that now, though.) Other books — Tulum: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go To the Ruins, which I would say delivers well on its promise. It has some of the history of the area ancient & recent, including explanations of the recent development of the area. I really liked this book a lot, enough to want a paper copy of it. Another excellent book: Maya for Travelers and Students: A Guide to Language and Culture in Yucatan. I went through it and wrote out all the Mayan words and phrases, eventually making a set of flash cards as I hung out in the hammock gazing at the ocean. I may continue learning Mayan. More on the history of Tulum, and on language, later in another post. This is supposed to be about access!

So, the Tulum ruins. After a 10 minute ride we got dropped off by a taxi driver at a quiet entrance on the coastal road side of the ruins. From there we went down maybe a quarter mile or less of flat, not too gravelly, path. The entry ticket booth is accessible and so were the truly palatial bathrooms at the entrance. Past the ticket line you can get a coke in the gift shop provided that you can walk up a step, or can fly. There was a cool diorama just past the entry, then some hard limestone paths, a little gravel but not a problem, to the world’s scariest steepest ramps ever. I appreciated that there were ramps, as otherwise it would have been a lot of stairs. The TravelScoot took the steep, corrugated slope like a champion. As it only has one motor in the hub of the left wheel (one wheel drive) it helped, going up, to lean heavily to the left. If you cannot do this, or are in a manual chair without someone to push and you are not a Paralympic athlete, you will be toast. Toast!

Once up the scary-ass ramps there were some signs and then a flight of many steep stairs to the Cenote Tower. I did not try that. Instead I went through the Northwest Gate in Tulum’s walls. Much of the paths in the central area were pretty flat and lightly graveled with a hard limestone surface underneath. I think my butt is still bruised from this foray into Bumpy Road land. I went up to the beach view of the main “castle” building and the Temple of the Descending God but it was steep and gravely and lumpy and sandy. At some point I stubbornly plowed into deep sand, and Danny had to carry my scooter out while I hobbled (a scene we were to repeat several times over our week long trip as I am often imprudent). The beach was closed off since turtles nest there. There was no way I could go up the hill to the Castillo. Oh well! Plenty of other ruins to sweatily look at and Ingress portals to hack. Danny scouted the exit at the Southwest door, or gate, which had stairs. Beyond it were some more sand and stairs and a bridge and more stairs to the real exit. We opted to go back the way we came. I zoomed down the scary corrugated steep ramps past wide eyed other tourists poking each other and gasping out things about the lady with the “moto”.

So: Tulum ruins. Doable, barely, for a wheelchair user if you have a powerful motor, big tires, or are very strong, or have someone to push you who is quite strong and heatstroke-proof. There is not a lot of shade in the central ruins. There is a lot of cool stuff to see in the bits where the path isn’t hilly or sandy. It helps to have a guidebook or just look stuff up on your phone if you have a good data plan (which is what I did, as well as playing Ingress like a total fool). Without the background you might just be like, OK there are some big ruined buildings here, pretty cool. With some of the history I think it is much better. Tulum was a sort of trade port and was founded in a sort of Warring States period around 1200 AD. The walls were because of that situation persisting over hundreds of years, with nobility living within the walls and most people living all over the surrounding area.

From the exit there was a little (free) motorized open bus shaped like a train, not accessible. As usual, we climbed onto it and Danny and Milo carried my scooter up. No one objected. The train decanted us into a giant parking lot area with booths of crafts, textiles, onyx chess sets, coconuts, a Starbucks, and little restaurant-cafes. It also had a very tall, maybe 70 foot, metal pole with guys on it doing something ritual and very acrobatic and amazing to the sound of drums and flutes. They turned out to be Los Voladores de Papantla. I donated some money to the guy who explained it to me. My Spanish is rusty but was really not too bad, the whole trip, and I could communicate complicated things well — just a bit ungrammatically. Anyway, respect to the Voladores and their ritual. If you read through some info on them you will see some of their history and controversies like whether women are allowed to become Voladores (yes in some areas, no in others). I bought a black sundress with cut lace inserts to wear on the beach, a mayan calendar tshirt for Milo, bow and arrows set with stone tips for my stepdaughter and nephew, a small, gorgeously woven bag and a beach sarong thing with turtles on it, and god knows, I cannot remember what else, but I bought a hundred dollars worth of it. This artesanal courtyard / flea market/ parking lot was hot and there were some vendors with hustle all around; I cruised around saying hello but remaining non committal until I had looked at everything. As usual there were some sidewalks but also lots of areas with light gravel, bumpiness, or a step (like to get into the starbucks). I found it very pleasant sitting in a little cafe where the trains stop (no step!) drinking from a coconut and eating fish tacos with Milo and Danny. We hung out there feeling like insiders as we watched several cycles of the trains pull up at which all the cafe guys would pop out with coconuts to entice the thirsty tourists from the ruins. I picked that cafe because it was playing Celia Cruz oldies. The food was great and not expensive. I asked to eat the inside of the coconut expecting they would just break it open and I would scoop out the inside. Instead they brought me the insides already cut up in a giant martini glass with a lime and hot sauce. So delicious!!

We went the next day to Xel-Ha. Despite reading about it online I could not picture what it would be like. It is a giant eco-theme park which reminded me in size and scope and some of the trappings, of the San Diego Wildlife Park. It is huge! But not as constantly scripted feeling as, say, Sea World. I got a discounted entry for being disabled. Entry is expensive, about 90 bucks per person. But that is including food and drink and the snorkeling equipment rental. This whole park was nicely accessible in many ways and very well organized. Entrances to things were level. There were accessible lockers and bathrooms everywhere. The lady at the ticket booth gave me a really really nice access map of the park, with paths of level access, slightly difficult access (i.e. bumpy path) and really not gonna be accessible paths, marked in green, yellow, and red. So nice! It was like a dream map!

It took Milo and I a bit of time to figure out how things worked. We left Danny (not a swimmer) in one of the many palapa-shaded restaurants where he hung out (he later got a massage at the aromatherapy spa). There are various locker rooms in the park which are color coded. We picked the purple station. You check in with your wristband, pick up swim fins, a mask, and snorkel, and get a locker key with a color coded lanyard. We left most everything in the locker but I had a beach bag for towels and stuff. They also give you towels and I think a bag, if you ask. But I had them already. Lifejackets are at the water’s edge. The park stretches around a huge, shallow, calm lagoon, and all the way around, there are many places where you can get into the water, usually by a couple of steps with handrail. I did not check to see if and where the level water entrances were.

We got in the water in several places over the day. I preferred the areas nearer to the ocean, where the water was salty and clear. We saw a zillion fish including a barracuda (omg). I did not have to swim any distance at all to see fish and most of the time didn’t wear the fins (which kind of hurt my ankles) With a lifejacket I could float around and just watch fish go by. In the freshwater end of the lagoon the water was more murky, there were more fish, but also more floating weeds and you couldn’t always see the bottom, which I find irrationally scary. (Much of the time as we got in or out there were people having panic attacks on the steps, to be honest.) No one bothers you about anything, you are free to roam around, snorkel, get out, swim, whatever.

There are special photo spots set up throughout the park where you can push a button and your photos get taken automatically and I think uploaded to a usb drive which you take with you. I didn’t look at the details of how it worked. It seemed well thought out.

There were dolphin, manatee, and sting ray encounter areas which you had to pay extra for. If I went back, I would do the dolphin swim. There were a lot of buffet restaurants, stands where you could just grab a cup and quickly fill it up with soda, shops everywhere, bars, and shady seating areas, a “hammock jungle”, a giant playground (not accessible – it was over sand) with short slides into the lagoon and one of those wood and rope kiddie-habitrail systems up in the trees. There is a long path and also a shuttle bus to the head of the river mouth where you can float down into the lagoon in giant tubes.

Fun but very exhausting. The park is HUGE. We only saw maybe a quarter of its paths and things.

The next two days I laid on the porch in Tulum eating cookies from the Mini-Super Pipienza, writing out Mayan flash cards, looking at birds and the ocean and trees from my binoculars, and taking pain meds.

Onward to Akumal. Akumal was like 1000 times more awesome than Tulum for me. Our beach cottage was extremely nice, bigger than our actual house in San Francisco, had a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a huge patio, a paved walkway that got me 3 steps from the beach and to another hard limestone walkway (the Akumal Trail). The cove is full of boats, people, the beach is also the public town beach, so is very lively. There were more birds. We had a little semi-private corner of the beach with lounge chairs, and interesting rocks to look at. The point had cannons from a Spanish shipwreck from the 1600s. It was very nice to wake up at 6am, make my own coffee and some toast, and scooter myself the 50 feet to the tiny beach. From the paved bath to the cottage, there was a single step…. there was a step inside the cottage as well. To get onto the beach there were 3 steps with handrails. The beach is nearly flat, and not wide, so from the steps (and the dry sand area – the tide doesn’t vary much) it was only maybe 20 feet to get into the water.

beach with pale blue water

From the path I could go on my scooter to the Centro Ecológico, many small shops and restaurants, dive shops for equipment rental, a whole other hotel (I didn’t go that far but it was clearly possible) and then out the little road, or on a public access path, to the Akumal beach archway (the “arco”). Outside the archway was my favorite haunt, the Super Chomak Minimart where the other wheelchair using lady in town supposedly worked, though I never did see her and I felt a little too shy to ask after her. You can buy staple groceries there like fruit, potatoes, bread, pastries, cookies, juice, butter, milk, and any sort of thing you would want for the beach including clothes. Sorry to go on about the corner store but I do love a corner store. The women who work there feed the stray cats (which are numerous and a bit mangy) and they are very nice.

Accessibility was not perfect, ramps steep or bumpy, paths a bit rocky. But navigable in a manual chair. I could have done the whole thing in my Quickie Ti (if I had a bit more stamina).

The path to the point, less than a city block away from our casita, had parts with deep sand. Danny carried my scooter across them and I hobbled. Then we went on a very bumpy rocky path around the point where there are tide pools. Tantalizing. I don’t have the stamina and should not have tried to go down this difficult, exhausting path just to see what was there! I am somewhat covered in bruises from the whole trip, I have to say.

The Lol-Ha restaurant was super nice. Part of it is a Thai restaurant and part is local cuisine. The access to the outdoor bit was very nearly flat but there was a tiny …. maybe inch and a half high …. bump into the restaurant. The indoor part had a steep ramp, too steep for me to get up on my own, I think. The food there was great. I also had very good fish at La Cueva del Pescador and nice but somewhat blander fare at the Turtle Bay Cafe, both wheel-able through some mildly gravelly paths. There were mariachis in the evening roaming about, including a group with an arpa who played joropos, which made me super happy.

The important thing was, I could get around the entire area without stalling out on gravel or sand!

With the scooter, also if I were more into sitting up and scooting around, I could have gotten across the highway into Akumal Pueblo itself, which is tiny but I think would be nice to have a look at. People recommended restaurants there but mentioned it is not particularly scenic.

Milo and I rented snorkeling equipment for 2 days. The water was calm, sand perfectly shallow and gently sloped, water clear. I really liked that we could just go in the water to snorkel any time with no fuss at all. We saw so many turtles! Fish! Sea urchins! Mostly green turtles, and one Hawksbill turtle.

This bit of Akumal beach has many tour groups coming through as well as being the public town beach (free to residents). So, people start arriving on buses around 10am and go into the water with guides in groups of 8 people. There is some limit on how many snorkeling groups they let into the water at once and I think a daily limit on the number total per day. It was a lot of people but it seemed well handled and there is an orientation video in the Centro Ecológico that explains the rules about not touching any coral and staying well back from the turtles.

I played with some local kids one day (mostly by giving them all the floaty rafts from the hotel) and had slightly wistful thoughts about how much I would like to really play, but it being better on all levels to stay back and just enjoy their lively energy and happiness. It was frustrating also not to get to snorkel as much as I would have liked, which would be ALL DAY. When I was a kid I would stay in the ocean for hours until my lips turned blue and my grandma would make me get out. I have nice memories of lying down in the warm sand and I still like to do that, just getting covered in sand and getting my face right up to it. I do not like to stop doing things when they’re fun and exciting, obviously. At Akumal I never felt cold at all (amazing) but even taking a ton of pain medication (for me, a ton, not really a lot on the big scale of things) I exhausted and hurt myself swimming around and trying to walk more than I should. With a longer stay I could swim short amounts several times a day and rest more with less excited (self imposed) pressure to scout around and “see everything”. So my plan is to try to go back there for a few weeks at a time, maybe this summer, work from there, and swim a lot. There was decently fast internet which seemed quite reliable. It would be ideal rehab for my ankles and general strength, if I managed the pacing correctly.

I noticed in driving through Playa del Carmen (a lively, large town south of Cancun) that a lot of the sidewalks had curb cuts. It would be fun to go there and cruise around.

One last problem I had was that snorkeling has the temptation, if not the requirement, to look ahead of you and my neck and upper back do not like to do that. I am too stiff to do it well. I got along ok by swimming a modified sidestroke, mostly floating in the life vest, or by going on my back, then flipping over to look straight down. My upper back and neck are still in bad pain from trying to do this.

No one gave me any hassle for the scooter or for having purple hair. Better than at home in San Francisco. Obviously people were eyeing me askance everywhere I went, but politeness or shyness prevailed. When I got to chatting at length with people I would explain: arthritis, pain, can walk a little. No one found that weird, prayed over me, acted like I was somehow too young to be disabled or wasn’t disabled enough or performing it correctly, or told me about the fish oil homeopathy their grandma’s friend does, or stuff like that, as I encounter almost daily…. People also were universally quick to explain the details of access or tell me good places to go that were relatively level. The dynamics of that very pleasant courtesy and thoughfulness may be also due to my being a rich tourist in a not very rich area that depends on tourism. I could not help but notice it though. Thank you nice people in Akumal and Tulum.

In general the whole trip was physically challenging for me (how not — I can barely do the laundry or get out of my house to get groceries in my own town!) and yet it all seems very possible now. I would feel confident going back on my own. My goal was to find a place where I can have a real vacation, not traveling by going to tech conferences or things for work, ie traveling while not only doing my regular job but also conference talks and attendance! I think that kind of travel is at least something I shouldn’t try to do for the next year or so. Or maybe ever or very rarely. Maybe that time has passed. I like traveling and I love conferences and the intensity of meeting tons of people quickly and also I love public speaking. But it has not gone well for me the last few years as my mobility is worse and pain levels through the roof. So, Real Vacation. What a concept!

Feel free to ask me questions about access in comments and I can try to answer! I hope this helps someone out when they are wondering what might be marginally accessible on the Quintana Roo coast.

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Yelp removes accessibility review

Today I got a notification from Yelp that they removed one of my reviews. In my review I reported that ironically, a therapist who advertised as serving a diverse group of people with a focus on coping with health challenges and “aging gracefully”, did not have a wheelchair accessible office.

The review was removed by Yelp as not being substantive.

I have to assume that this was done at the business owner’s request. That seems pretty sad to me. It would be better practice for her to ask former clients for reviews.

Yelp is often very useful for me. I don’t review businesses often and when I do, it is normally to say positive things and thank people for doing a fantastic job. I also try to mention businesses that consider access or are particularly thoughtful or accessible for wheelchair users. But I feel stubborn here.

Yelp should not remove reviews for reporting lack of wheelchair accessibility. Lack of accessibility in any business is incredibly useful information for many of us. My review potentially would save other people who have difficulty with stairs from wasting their and Dr. Schochet’s time.

When I wrote the review, I was feeling bitter and sad that I had gotten my hopes up at finding a fabulous sounding therapist who would understand what I needed to talk about so I wouldn’t have to explain all of disability politics and the feelings of loss and worry I was coping with.

Here’s my old review, admittedly sarcastic –

“Her ads say that she deals especially with “Adjusting to health changes” and aging gracefully, but her office is up a flight of stairs and the bathroom is up another flight of stairs. So if you are disabled, you will likely need to look elsewhere.”

Seriously, is that all that bad? That was it. That was all I said.

Here is Dr. Schochet’s description of her practice from Yelp:

Specialties

* Diverse San Francisco practice includes:
Visual and performing artists, creatives
Newcomers, immigrants, expats
LGBTQI, alternative lifestyles

* Guidance with navigating life transitions:
Adjusting to health changes
Improving the quality of your relationships
Adapting to work challenges
Management coaching
Grieving losses
Approaching retirement
Aging gracefully

Here is my newly submitted review:

In 2014 I called this doctor to try to get counseling as I coped with ill health, physical impairment and increasing loss of physical mobility and the challenges of having a full time job while being a wheelchair user in chronic pain. I understand that not everyone’s office can be accessible, especially if someone has a home office. However, as this therapist advertises her practice as focusing on topics like “aging gracefully” and “adjusting to heath changes” I thought this might be a great fit for what I was looking for. After some phone conversation Dr. Schochet, who seemed very nice, let me know that unfortunately her office had many stairs to get to it and the bathroom is another flight of stairs away.

I think it is useful to note, for other wheelchair users or people with mobility limitations, this practice is not wheelchair accessible. I believe that not being able to physically access a business due to its lack of wheelchair accessibility counts as a substantive consumer experience.

My 3 star rating is based on the fact that Dr. Schochet seemed perfectly nice and professional on the phone when i spoke with her about her practice and what I was looking for.

Let’s see if it stands. I think it is perfectly fair. This review explains more clearly that I had some personal engagement and experience with the business owner, and how this information is a useful addition to Yelp.

This blog post is for the meta issues. I don’t approve of the action of the psychologist who may have requested my review’s removal, if that’s what happened here. She may be a very nice person and a good psychologist. My impression of her was fine. But, if she petitioned Yelp to have my accessibility report removed, that does not speak well for her as a therapist for a “diverse” population. This is the opposite of what a person who believes in diversity, and being a good ally, should do.

I also think deleting an honest and fair review is just silly. As should be clear from this post, it will only have the opposite effect from what you may intend, because I can just post my experience somewhere else and describe it even more thoroughly, including the sad and embarrassing part where someone tried to silence a fairly reasonable and minor critique, unlikely to affect anyone’s decision who isn’t also a wheelchair user . . . . Truly a bit ridiculous.

I would like to call out Yelp for bad judgment in this small and more or less unimportant decision. My concern is that it may stem from a very bad policy.

Is it Yelp’s policy to not allow criticism of accessibility?

The review was removed “because it lacks a substantive consumer experience”.

I hope my new review makes it clear that I did have a substantive consumer experience. I had the experience of not being able to use the business at all.

If I can’t GET INTO a business to use it, then do my reviews not count? I believe they do count, and that they are useful information for others to make their decisions.

My own house has stairs and is not accessible. If I have a bad day and can’t manage the stairs or am in too much pain to handle the stairs and still function after I get down them, then I don’t leave the house.

Any time that I know in advance that a business or venue is not accessible, I feel deeply appreciative. I can choose not to go and make other plans, or I can decide how to navigate or negotiate its barriers, or I can make sure I have someone with me to help. Any sort of information about barriers to access is helpful!

That’s ultimately why I mention accessibility. It is because I am thinking about the experience of other people with disabilities and am acting in solidarity with them. It is a political act. It’s not to punish anyone for being in an inaccessible location. It’s to improve the world for everyone one step at a time. Bitter humor is often helpful but it is not necessary and you will note I tried to leave that tone out of my second attempt at a review.

Meanwhile, here is an amusing list of Wheelchair Inaccessible businesses in San Francisco, also from Yelp.

I would never have thought about this again ever, if Yelp had not removed my trivial two sentence comment about lack of wheelchair access, but now I’m a bit ticked off, enough to write a blog post for half an hour. Cheers and peace out.

Related posts:

Taxis who refuse wheelchairs

I enjoy coming to Portland and taking the awesomely accessible train from PDX airport to downtown, but I got in a little late for my conference dinner, so, figuring it would save time, I headed to the taxi dispatch line to get a cab. I was traveling by myself, with my manual Quickie Ti wheelchair and a backpack.

The taxis were about halfway up to the first taxi position, and the dispatcher motioned for me to get into the first one in line, a Union Cab. The driver shook his head at her, then at me as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. “I just need you to open the trunk, the wheelchair folds up and I will put it in.” He refused to take me as a passenger. The dispatcher was angry with him, but he ignored her and pulled up a few more feet, taking another passenger who arrived at the stand after me.

The second driver in line was in a Green Cab. He had a big white bushy beard and was wearing sunglasses and a large black floppy hat. He looked right into my eyes, shook his head, and waved his hand dismissively as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. The dispatcher also was unable to persuade him to open his doors or trunk. That guy pulled up and let someone else and their luggage into his cab.

The third driver was outraged at what he had just seen. He got out of the taxi, and helped me put my backpack into his trunk. I took apart my chair, which has quick release wheels like some bicycles, and folded down the seat back for us both to put the pieces into the trunk of the taxi. This driver asked the dispatcher from the airport taxi stand to report the first two drivers. I said that I would write down their information and report them. I got the cab companies and numbers, but not the license plates. As we pulled out of the airport, we actually caught up with the two cabs that had refused to take me as a passenger, so I was able to double check their cab numbers.

The nice driver was from Broadway Cab. He pointed out the phone number for the City of Portland complaint line, and was very supportive and helpful. He said that to his knowledge, the first two drivers have done this in the past because they think that wheelchairs will take too much time to deal with. Talking with him was so heartening, a good reminder that there are plain old decent human beings around who will treat me like a fellow person although we are strangers.

From my conversations with other cab drivers and bus drivers, there are other assumptions that they tend to make about wheelchair users or people who have a visible disability. Drivers may be angry at me before I even get into a cab or bus, because they are afraid I will take up their time, be unable to get in or out of the cab, may somehow injure myself and sue them, or whatever. If I try to hail a cab on the street, it usually doesn’t work. I have to ask someone else, even a total stranger, to hail the cab while I hide out of sight. This is part of why services like Uber and Lyft work well for me, while I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to use them. I can leave my house with my manual wheelchair, travel, and be confident that I won’t get stranded by bigotry.

As it was, I only had wait a few minutes for a nicer cab driver, and things turned out fine. However, I do get angry about cab drivers who won’t stop for me. The prejudice that I get isn’t going to get any easier for me as I get older, so I try to take the time now, while I have the energy (and the privilege) to report discriminatory behavior.

I just reported them through the City of Portland’s online complaint form and to the cab companies. The city emailed me back immediately to apologize and to let me know they were addressing the complaints. Both Green and Union took my phone complaint and said they would investigate and likely reprimand the drivers.

Since I benefit daily from the activism of people who hard core chained themselves to buses in the dead of winter in the 70s and 80s, I figure I can spare an hour to try to make sure that current ADA law is enforced. I also think of places like New York City where activists are fighting hard to get the city to make all taxis accessible to more wheelchair users.

Related posts:

Screen reader and accessibility bug day

Tomorrow Mozilla is hosting a screen reader and general accessibility bug day.

Len Burns and I have invited screen reader users of Firefox and other Mozilla products to join us in sorting through existing accessibility bugs. Some folks from the Mozilla Accessibility team will be on hand to talk with us.

I’m pretty sure we will also collect some new bugs along the way!

I hope that people will make new connections, and that we can attract a wider accessibility bugmaster team to do ongoing work with Mozilla’s existing developers and a11y experts.

The screen reader landscape for web access is fairly complicated. For example, here are the Firefox Gecko docs for Windows accessibility vendors which explain the relationship between the DOM tree and Microsoft’s accessibility API. Common screen reader software includes NVDA, Window-Eyes, JAWS, and Orca.

Orca2 sm

If you would like a quick overview of common web access issues, look through Aaron Leventhal’s presentation. I like it because he includes some political dimensions and context for accessibility.

So far, the “bugmaster” bug days have been combined with QA’s efforts. I’m hoping to also hold focused bug days like this one, in cooperation with various teams across Mozilla. As we gather more templates for bug managing and triage, I hope we’ll coalesce bugmaster teams with expertise in particular areas. And we can repeat topic-focused bug days periodically.

If you are interested in web accessibility or if you use a screen reader, please drop by on Tuesday and say hello in the #accessibility channel on irc.mozilla.org.

You can also add the name you go by, your irc handle, your contact infomation, or anything else you use to identify yourself, on the wiki page for the bug day under Participants: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Bugmasters/Bug_days/a11y#Participants .

The goals of the screen reader bug day are to improve everyone’s experience of Firefox and other Mozilla tools. We would like for everyone to be able to access the web smoothly. Through collecting more information on accessibility bugs, we hope to connect committed technical users with accessibility developers, and make our community better and more powerful. Our bugmaster work should help to make developers’ work easier. That way they can spend more time fixing stuff.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to email me at lhenry@mozilla.org.

In setting up this event I tried to make sure that the tools we are using are as accessible as possible. Etherpad, which Mozilla teams often use for bug triage events, is not useable for screen readers. The wiki.mozilla.org pages seem readable though editing may be more of a challenge. IRC feels like our best bet for good communication. I also went through about 100 screen-reader-related bugs and emailed the bug reporters and commenters to send them invitations to participate.

Len is particularly interested in developing a plan for Thunderbird and screen reader vendors. If you share this interest I recommend joining the mailing list tb-planning.

Here is what Len has to say on Thunderbird accessibility:

It is complicated, because the issues are really between the two major screen reader vendors and Mozilla. Meaning, that the solution would need to be a cooperative one. Because the screen reader vendors perceive, right or wrong, that little more than security bugs are being updated in Thunderbird, they do not seem terribly motivated. I am not quite sure where to take it.

Unless I could convince the vendors that solving these issues are worthy of their time, I am a bit stuck.

I would definitely be willing to raise the specifics with both vendors if I could give them some reason to encourage a belief that there is a mutual interest in improving things. When I have raised several with GW Micro I hear things like: This has been filed for over a year with no response, and the like.

Those of us using screen readers are currently in quite a pickle regarding email. The choices are quite limited. A lot of us have been using Thunderbird for some time, but when things reach a point where you are spending too much time trying to send a simple email, something must give.

I can also tell you that what finally tipped me were problems between the composition screen, and other open apps on-screen. If I were going to compose an email in TBird right now, I would have to be sure that Skype was minimized, MirandaIM was minimized, etc. If I did not, I would be likely to encounter a range of strange behaviors in the edit window such as being unable to read back the text I am writing, inaability to use my backspace, format distortion, and more.

What has been slowing me down on these issues was a lack of knowing avenues of pursuit. The challenge will be convincing vendors that investing time is a benefit. My position is that I am not sure, but, we have a good chance of catalyzing and contributing to change and possible strengthened relationships.

Len has been a professional system administrator, coder and web accessibility consultant since the Internet was a kinder and gentler place. He makes his living these days free lancing as a web accessibility consultant for colleges and universities and coding the back-end glue of web sites for small to mid-sized businesses.

Len FB profile

Thanks to Len for his insights on web dev, email, and access in the last couple of weeks as well as his outreach efforts to talk with vendors, software users, and developers!

Related posts:

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

IMG_1678

I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

IMG_20120702_165339.jpg

Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

Related posts:

On bus lifts and complaint forms

Now that I am using a mobility scooter and can’t drive, I ride a MUNI bus about 4 times a day in San Francisco. Most of the time I get on the bus and everything’s fine. A non-trivial amount of hte time, there is some hitch to accessible MUNI travel and either I cope with that gracefully or I get quite angry.

Most of the time in the last few months I get too discombobulated to document the incident. But I’m resolving to do so consistently from now on not for my own desire to vent but as a political act that might benefit many people and might help us act together to improve things.

When I talk about, or twitter or blog about access difficulties on the bus, people tell me “well you should report it”. I found that reporting it is quite complicated. Also, while dealing with mobility issues and a lot of pain and all the demands of my daily life, even on medical leave from work, it’s been daunting to consider this.

I would like to describe some of the aspects of MUNI transit with a wheelchair and to take a good look at the process of making an official complaint. The complaint process is fairly clunky and off-putting. I’m thinking about how to improve that process and make it productive and useful. Meanwhile, I’ll make a policy for myself of not only going through the formal complaint process, but also twittering the bus number and situation. For my own data tracking, I will take a photo of each bus I ride, with the bus number, uploading it to Flickr. I’ll then take notes on access in a paper notebook. For each Flickr photo I will type up my access notes, and tag the photo with #accessMUNI, the bus number, approximate time of day, details of the experience, and #fail or #win. That will give me some data to work with personally.

I wonder how many lifts break on MUNI in a day, in a month? How many complaints about bus access are there? Is that or should it be public information? Could I build a work-around, an end run, basically an alternate complaint system that has intake from paper forms (mailed to me personally), text messages, and a phone app? Or a simpler web form for complaints?

Here is how a smooth bus-boarding goes:

* The driver sees me and immediately tells the apparently able bodied people on the bus and the people waiting for the bus to use the back doors. The driver extends the lift.
* I get on the lift and it brings me up onto the bus
* The driver or other passengers flip up some seats to make room for me and the chair
* I settle in and we’re good to go (meanwhile, everyone else has gotten on or off.)

Keep in mind the wheelchair seating areas, two on most buses, are midway back in the bus, so to get on or off, I have to go past three to 5 inward-facing seats which might be full of people, some of them with shopping carts, strollers, walkers, and suitcases.

bus-diagram.jpg

In a bad situation, here is what can happen:

* The driver does not know how to operate the lift.
* The driver tries to extend the lift, but it doesn’t work.
* The driver claims the lift is broken.
* The driver says the bus is too crowded and won’t let me on.
* The driver lets all the other people get on the bus through the front door, filling up the seats, then extends the ramp, but now the bus is so full it is very hard to get to the wheelchair seating. People have to get up or move or stand on the seats to let me pass. The people on the bus sometimes get angry and impatient at the fuss and delay.
* The driver does not stop for me at all.
* There are already two wheelchairs on the bus, so the driver won’t let me on.
* Driver has not pulled up to the curb in a place where I can get on or off, and then has to reposition the bus to extend the lift.
* The lift breaks in such a way that the bus can’t move because the doors won’t close.
* I get on the bus but the lift won’t work again to let me off.
* The lockdown clamps either don’t work at all, or lock in a wheelchair’s wheels and won’t release. (I don’t use the locks anymore so I won’t go into this.)
* There is no button for me to push to indicate I want to get off the bus and need the lift, so I have to shout to the driver or get other passengers to let the driver know. (This doesn’t always work: I can miss the stop, or it can mean the driver yells at me.)
* Many other bugs in the system that I haven’t thought to list.

As a more minor complaint I have noticed that all drivers get me to come onto the lift, then lock the front flap upwards so I can’t get off again. Then the driver will sometimes get up to clear passengers from the wheelchair seating area and flip up the seats to make room. In that situation I am sometimes sitting in the rain waiting. I always wonder why the driver doesn’t move the lift to bring me onto the bus, and out of the cold and rain, first? Don’t they think? But, whatever, at least I’m on the bus eventually.

Another detail that would improve courtesy is that when the drivers (correctly) ask people waiting to get on or off to use the back door, and they begin to extend the lift, they almost always overlook obviously elderly and disabled people using canes or simply very frail. It would be much more in keeping with the spirit of things if the driver would encourage these folks to get on the bus through the front door, then deal with the lift and wheelchairs. I often tell the driver, “I’m sitting down — that lady isn’t! Does she need the bus to kneel, first?” But it usually doesn’t work and the driver continues yelling in some elderly person’s face for them to “use the back door”.

I wonder about the training the drivers go through. Most of them can competently operate a lift and are resigned to helping get wheelchair users on and off the bus. A very few are kind and treat disabled people with human decency as a matter of course. I see them deal with difficult people and situations gracefully. It might improve things in general if the drivers had some basic consciousness raising about people with disabilities. Drivers may assume a wheelchair user is paralyzed (they often assume this for me, yet I can walk ) They shout, or condescend, or pat me, or bring in a lot of assumptions to our interaction, and then I see them repeat that pattern with other disabled people who get on the bus. You can’t make people be nice and I don’t need my ass kissed because I’m disabled, but maybe some of that bad attitude feeds into the access problems that I see happen, especially with drivers who regard us as an inconvenience and want to use any excuse to pass us up and who seem to want to make us feel it.

When a lift is broken and a bus passes me up, I always wonder what happens. Does that driver just continue on for the rest of the shift, passing up an unknown number of people who needed a lift? Do they report the broken lift right away? What happens?

Here is a #49 bus, number 8195, that passed me up yesterday at Van Ness and 26th, claiming a broken lift:

49 bus with broken lift

So, moving onward to the complaint process and the forms online. Basically this is the bug reporting system. San Francisco uses the 311 system. Here is the 311 page that leads to the complaint form. People with compliments or complaints can use the web forms, or can call 311 or a full phone number to give feedback. There is a link to an accessible form, but it isn’t really an accessible form, it’s instructions to call the 311 number if you can’t use the web form.

Here is screen one of the complaint form. It asks for an email address and a repeated email address confirmation. You have the option to skip this step.

MUNI complaint screen 1

Then I get a screen that either adds my address to the 311 database, or tells me it’s already in there. It tells me to call 911 in a real emergency and gives me a disclaimer about privacy. There are Back and Next buttons.

MUNI complaint screen 2

Screen 3 is a beauty. It’s 26 fields, 8 of them required.

SF MUNI complaint screen 3
Here are their fields. Required fields are marked with an asterisk. Just for fun, I bold faced the options that I need to complain about most often.

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Primary phone
4. Alternate phone
5. *Email address (never remembered from one session to the next; no login possible)
6. Address
7. City
8. State
9. Zip code
*10. Request category — a dropdown menu with these options:
a. Conduct – Discourteous/Insensitive/Inappropriate Conduct
b. Conduct – Inattentiveness/Negligence
c. Conduct – Unsafe Operation
d. Services – Criminal Activity
e. Services – Service Delivery / Facilities
f. Services – Service Planning
g. Services – Miscellaneous

11. *Request type. This dropdown changes depending on which Request Category was selected in field 10.
a1: 301 Discourtesy to Customer
a2: 302 Altercation: Employee/Customer
a3: 303 Fare/Transfer/POP Dispute
a4: 304 Mishandling Funds/Transfers
a5: Refused Vehicle as Terminal Shelter
a6: General Unprofessional Conduct/Appearance

b1: 201 Pass Up/Did Not Wait for Transferee
b2: 202 Ignored Stop Request
b3: 203 No EN Route Announcements
b4: 204 Inadequate/No Delay Announcements
b5: 205 Offroute/Did Not Complete Route
b6: 206 Not Adhering to Schedule
b7: 207 Refused to Kneel Bus/Lower Steps
b8: 208 Did Not Ask Priority Seats to be Vacated
b9: 209 Did Not Pull to Curb
b10: 210 Refused to Accomodate Service Animal
b11: 211 Unauthorized Stop/Delay
b12: 212 Did not Enforce Rules/Contact Authorities
b13: 213 General Distraction from Duty

c1: 101 Running Red Light/Stop Sign
c2: 102 Speeding
c3: 103 Allegedly Under Influence of Drugs/Alcohol
c4: 104 Using Mobile Phone or Radio
c5: 105 Eating/Drinking/Smoking
c6: 106 Collision
c7: 107 Fall Boarding/On Board Alighting – Injury
c8: 108 General Careless Operation

d1: 501 Altercation: Miscellaneous
d2: 502 Larceny/Theft
d3: 503 Fare Evasion/Transfer Abuse
d4: 504 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbance

e1: 601 Delay/No-Show
e2: 602 Bunching
e3: 603 Switchback
e4: 604 Vehicle Appearance
e5: 605 Vehicle Maintenance/Noise
e6: 606 Lift/Bike Rack/Securements Defective
e7: 607 Track/ATCS Maintenance
e8: 608 Station/Stop Appearance/Maintenance
e9: 609 Elevator/Escalator Maintenance
e10: 610 Fare Collection Equipment
e11: 611 Signs, Maps, and Auto-Announcements

f1: 701 Insufficient Frequency
f2: 702 Lines/Routes: Current and Proposed
f3: 703 Stop Changes
f4: 704 Shelter Requests

g1: 801 NextMuni/Technology
g2: 802 Advertising/Marketing
g3: 803 Personal Property Damage
g4: 804 Fare Media Issues
g5: Muni Rules and Regulations

12: Expected Response Time (7 days)
13: checkbox for Disclaimer
14: * Vehicle number
15: Employee ID
16: Employee physical description
17: * Line/Route (Dropdown of all the routes)
18, 19, 20: Date, Time, am/pm
21: Location
22: * Cross Street
23: * Details
24: Do you want a response letter?
25: Was this an ADA violation?
26: If it was an ADA violation, do you want a hearing?
(If “Yes” is selected, and the operator is identified, a telephone or in-person hearing will be scheduled to address the issue)

Sometimes the form returns an error message!

muni complaint form error page

When it works, I get a confirmation screen with an option to go back or to confirm the info.

After confirmation I get an issue tracking number, and if I’ve given my email, an email with all the information I submitted plus the tracking number. So, if a person goes through all these screens successfully, the tracking system seems pretty decent.

My main criticism of the form is that it requires the user to decide on a taxonomy for their complaint. The complaint must fit into one of the dropdown menu options, but the possible options are shown only after the user decides what category it should be in. The complaintant should see all the options and should have a clear “miscellaneous/not included in these options” possibility from the start. THey shouldn’t have to put the complaint into a category at all. The computer can assign a category for it based on the user’s choice from a single dropdown. Uncategorizable complaints, or complaints from people not patient enough to read through the dropdown options, should be accepted too, because they are potentially useful data points. I don’t care if someone just wants to say “Fuck You MUNI” — that is not super constructive, and yet it still gives useful information in that someone was dissatisfied.

The MUNI complaint form appears to be designed with an official bus inspector in mind as the “complaintant”.

I have never seen a bus driver put the restraint system on for a wheelchair user, by the way, though some drivers have tried to get me to lock myself in with the wheel clamps. I’ve actually only seen one guy in a cheap E&J chair with no working brakes use the wheel clamps and never seen *anyone* use the belt system. It is unrealistic and not very workable. I’m sure someone out there uses it and likes it, though.

The “compliment” form is much simpler than the complaint form.

I can picture many other ways to collect this data. Maybe by building a system to take simplified complaints by text message from a feature phone (like Krys Freeman’s Bettastop prototype), or from a phone call. Paper complaints should also be possible, maybe by postcard. Complaints should be collected to figure out where problems may be clustering.

There could be a variety of useful smartphone apps as well. Though how many other disabled people on the bus do I ever seen with an iPhone? Take a wild guess. None! (That number will grow as GenX ages.) Accessibility problems should be reported via smartphone by able bodied people routinely, rather than that issue being left to the people with the least energy and resources.

It is hard to know what details you will need in making a complaint. Bus number, time of day, route number, location of the issue are the main details. I could make preprinted notepad forms and distribute them to other people on the bus, asking them to collect data.

I could see what my experimental data collection on Flickr leads to and if I can get anyone else to do the same and use the same hashtags.

And I could certainly go to one of the MUNI accessibility committee meetings to see what they talk about. Mainly at this point I’d like to know what happens with the data collected and how I can obtain it. Do particular lines have more wheelchair users, or more lift breakdowns? Particular times of day? What could be done about that?

Ideally, lift breakage or other issues would be reported in as close to realtime as possible, and hooked into a great open source system like QuickMuni? What about an app that knows what bus I’m on already, and for which I can just hit a few buttons to give simple feedback?

The thing that pisses me off most of all is trying to ride the bus during a busy time. Drivers then sometimes let 20 other people get on the bus first through the front doors. Good drivers tell everyone to board from the back door, and lower the lift immediately. Bad drivers delay everyone if they let the able bodied people go in the front, then don’t get them to move back, and then the driver refuses to let me on the bus. Leaving me in the dust is just the logical, reasonable thing to do in those driver’s minds. I had one driver on the 24 line yell at me for not *thanking him* for explaining why he wouldn’t let me on the bus. You can imagine my incandescent rage as I am deemed inconvenient and it is as if I have no right to take up space, while every other person, their shopping bags, strollers, and so on are given as much convenience as they could wish. It is for those moments that I’m going to take a photo of every bus I attempt to board, even before there is a problem.

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Asking for access

This week I noticed a great post by lightgetsin on asking for accessibiilty improvements in which she records the results of asking a couple of dozen sites to fix inaccessible content.

It was a familiar story to me, very similar to what happens when I ask for accessibility accommodations off the web. Sometimes no response at all; sometimes a few reasons why the person or company can’t be bothered; very often, outright hostility, fear, and defensiveness.

Lightgetsin’s post became very popular over the past few days and the responses were quite interesting.

The reactions on Hacker News, Asking for accessibility gets you nothing but grief, were often faily but in complicated ways, worth reading and sometimes worth arguing with. You can see from many of the responses that it is the norm for developers to think that it’s not worth it to make software or sites accessible. Their reasons vary. There are also excellent and positive comments in the Hacker News thread.

Bryant Park accessibility sign

Naomi Black from Google responded to the post in a more helpful way, pointing to Google’s accessibility page.

I’m glad that lightgetsin’s post has sparked such widely ranging discussion.

It’s always hilarious to me when people ask me for help or advice with web accessibility or want me to be on web accessibility panels at conferences. I’m a wheelchair + crutches user; I don’t surf the web with my legs! And while I want to be a good ally, frankly, I am not always, and don’t have particularly special knowledge about web accessibility. You could boil down what I know into “use alt tags on images”, “don’t autoplay stuff”, “transcribe videos”, “make the text in hyperlinks meaningful”. So I try to refer people to actual experts in the field, when I get asked.

I’m spending the morning today checking my blogs with WAVE, a tool to show errors that would break a web site reading experience for users of screen readers. I’m also going to install the WAVE Firefox toolbar, to help remind me to check my blog posts for obvious accessibility errors. I’m looking at this huge list of resources, hoping to learn a bit more: Web Design References: Accessibility.

What guides or tools would you recommend for web developers, bloggers, or software developers, to educate themselves about accessibility?

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